Friday, October 24, 2014

"Ours is not to reason why, but instead to do …."

The type of thing one reflects on during really long commutes
It's been a long journey to get here - and the road has never been this wide open!
Model railroading is many things, but one thing it's not is some sort of epic struggle for the hearts and minds of men.  But you might think that's the case after reading some chat lists, blogs, and forums. Allow me to summarize:
"How much detail is enough for any one particular model on the layout?...Does every element have to be "hyper" detailed, or is "super detailed" sufficient?...If we're not approaching all this as true artists then we're just wasting time...Every project should somehow advance the state of the art…Oh, and while you're at it….Get more kids involved in the hobby."
You'd think we were splitting the atom or creating the next Mona Lisa ….
I get the model-building aspect of model railroading, I really do. And I even enjoy the challenge of working a local freight or switching the yard during formal (or even informal) operating sessions. 
But I am puzzled by those who believe we need to duplicate every nuance of the prototype, including work rules, with the same fidelity we once reserved for locomotives. The latest buzzword seems to capsulize this approach as "recreating jobs." Frankly, I'm not sure I fully understand it. And please, don't bother trying to explain it to me. 
Of course, that's fine, if that's your game, but frankly I think there are many equally valid reasons for building a model railroad that have nothing to do with "recreating jobs." 
My goal that drives the considerable investment in time, energy, and money I've made in this hobby is to recreate, in three dimensions, several key scenes and the equipment from my prototype. Every time I've gotten further away from that goal - even a little bit - I ended up spending (wasting?) resources.
There was a point where I was getting advice from some very seasoned modelers/operators to do things that simply didn't sit well with me - but even when the advice started to seem at odd with my goals and I could sense things were going astray, I kept with it - for a while.  I did it since I figured this was my first large home layout and they'd built successful railroads - so they must know "truth."
This advice ranged from considering another prototype to model 
- since that would offer more operating interest to the operating crew
to focusing on a different era 
- which is "easier" to get RTR equipment for than the one I chose - 
to adding more infrastructure and additional trains 
to support a larger operating "crew" that may or not ever show up -
to the aforementioned focus on recreating jobs 
- since that's what the "serious" modelers are doing ….
Notice a trend here? 
All of this advice was well-meaning, but inherently wrong since it was predicated on what others thought I should be doing. And it was grounded in their goals and motivations, not mine.  And the further down this path I went the less and less I liked my layout. 
In the end I decided to make whatever changes were needed to create the layout I wanted. Getting from there to here has required lots of thinking, planning, demolition, rebuilding, and tweaking - most of which I've shared through this blog. Think of it as "layout design with plywood and plaster" instead of pencil and paper. 
The process is starting to pay dividends. Although it certainly has not been "fun" I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and this post represents a turning point in that I've at last finished the last of the major "rebuild" efforts that started close to three years ago. 
That means there will hopefully be a lot more countryside and less raw plywood and styrofoam in the coming months. 
So, what's next? 
There's a lot of prototype research I'd like to do, and a lot of  modeling projects that have been on hold way too long while I've been screwing around building a layout designed to please a whole bunch of someones other than me. 
As for everyone else? If they enjoy the layout enough to come look at it and/or operate it, that's fine.  If they don't, well, that's okay too. I'm not building it for anyone but myself. For me it's not high art - nor is it an attempt to "recreate jobs." Frankly, it's something between a craft/art project and a giant game board. Really, it's my own time machine, giving me a window into the past colored with my point of view of what I think it was like "back then."
And I'm at long last content with how things are shaping up. 

It's taken me a LONG time to get to this point. - Marty 

Told you it was a long commute ….


Unknown said...

Well and truly said.

Thank you.

Chris Adams said...

Wow Marty - sounds like we've been on the same road, though you are - admittedly - further down that road than I've gotten. Thanks much for sharing your thoughts here so that I (and I expect, others) can correct tack before getting too far off course. "My goal that drives the considerable investment in time, energy, and money I've made in this hobby is to recreate, in three dimensions, several key scenes and the equipment from my prototype." Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm sorry you've had to do so much reworking, but the fact that you've done the right thing is evident in the rekindled enthusiasm that comes across on your blog. Keep at it - I'm enjoying following you on your journey!

Tore Hjellset said...

This is food for thought for me also. I am currently building three different layouts; one H0n3 US prototype layout, one highly detailed and prototypical norwegian layout ( The Grimstad Line), and one spaghetti bowl set-track layout for my shop. Guess which one I'm having most fun with building...?

Trevor said...

Hi Marty:
As one of those who "models jobs", I'll offer a different perspective. Railway modeling is not about "modeling jobs", or about "recreating key scenes and equipment", or about "lighting them up and letting them rip", or the many other reasons people do it.
It's about whichever combination of those things appeals to the hobbyist. If you're happy recreating key scenes and equipment, then well done! You're doing the hobby "correctly". My approach is similar - I too attempt to recreate key scenes and equipment. But I also try to recreate the jobs. And I'm happy doing that - so, guess what? I'm doing the hobby "correctly" too. And while it's not the hobby for me, the guy who is building a giant train set for the grand kids, with O scale three rail equipment and smoke generators? If he's happy, he's doing the hobby correctly too.
I think that message is in this posting.
Where we go wrong, as hobbyists, is trying to force our ideas of what is "correct" onto other hobbyists. I see that a lot from certain columnists in major print and digital publications - and from many forum members.
I once had a guy comment on my blog to tell me that I had to "Stop right now" and rethink my layout design, because I hadn't included enough track or industries for people to switch. I looked at his website, and he's building a multi-deck freelanced empire with vertical cliff scenery wedged between massive amounts of track. Obviously, he's decided this is the only approach. What offended me was that he tried to tell me my approach was somehow less valid.
Thanks for posting - always thoughtful and enjoyable.
- Trevor

Port Rowan in 1:64
An S scale study of a Canadian National Railways branch line in Southern Ontario - in its twilight years.

CVSNE said...

Couldn't agree more.


Matthieu Lachance said...

This hobby core is passion... If you do things to be convenient, just as this particular list of things that SHOULD be done, you just stray away from your focus. We aren't trying to be perfect, we are trying to get things right in our own perception of the railroading reality.

We have all been caught at some point in thinking if we followed the recipe, we would be happy in the end. And we end up at the same point: bored et running out of motivation. When I started to build larger layout a few years ago, I went with the good old idea transition era was the best time because you've got a bit of everything then. As time progressed, I felt I was under pressure to replicate things I did like, but that didn't motivate me. There was no passion anymore... With time, the layout era and locale slightly shifted from decade to decade until I reached a era that really did passionnate me. It was also a time when more people were talking about smaller layouts... I remember when I stumbled upon Trevor's blog few years ago. It was a revelation to me.

Recreating jobs came naturally to me when I wanted to understand what I saw. We often think we have to duplicate things, but I think this is a soul-less approach. It's more about understanding the jobs. That way, you models have a goal... not a simulated one but a real one. At one point, the layout stops to be a race against ourselves, it turns into a living thing you that grows and evolves. When you reach that point, you no longer bother about plywood, track plans and stuff like this.

I used to be one of those who plans forever and do little. I would anguish over the precise location of a turnouts never to install it. I no longer rely on plans as a end results, but as a general idea of what I shoud do. This hobby is so complex, you need, at some point, to use this artistic sense you talked about. It yields better results and is much more satisfying because you are truly creating. This is very subjective and that's why I must agree with Trevor, the correct way is to do it the way that thrills you and focus on that. Other people's way of doing model railroading are needed to see things from different or new perspectives, never to be any kind of dogma. There's no examination for us, nothing to proove to others, no need for a license to model...

The only useful advice I was giving was by an old shop owner who once told me: "keep it simple". For a long time, I thought he was talking about "simplistic" and felt he had no right to be so blunt. Only later I understood he was talking about staying focussed.

Thanks for bringing that subject!

EWKnaggs1976 said...

This is an interesting post. I personally have been drawn towards the hobby through railway photography. Although I find the operating aspect of railways interesting it's actually the imagery of short mixed trains trundling along isolated branch lines or express passenger trains launching themselves across expansive gorges that interests me. Most of us don't experience railways holistically but as a series of snapshots that invite our imaginations to draw the dots together. I think maybe part of the mistake is forgetting this and attempting to replicate a reality that most of us never experience other than maybe from the window of a carriage. Tom Johnson's Logansport and Indiana Northern is a favourite layout of mine as it is evocative of a time and place and enlivens the imagination. In terms of receiving advice on your modelling pursuits I would like to promote some 'Down Under' talent. Peter Hearsum's Burroowa blog is a personal favorite of mine. . Peter's blog format doesn't fall into ideology or preaching and is simply a 'how to' or 'this is how I did it' documentation of the progress he makes on his fine NSWGR prototype layout. Things move slow but in the spirit of less is more, the knowledge he shares and the modest format he presents it in is inspiring amongst many others who are agonising over minor details or technical trivialities. Thanks for sharing your work and thoughts.